There are a number of severe weather events that can affect the safety of your playground equipment, including:
- Heavy rain and flooding
- Strong winds from tropical storms and hurricanes
- Snow, blizzards, and freeze-thaw cycles
- Natural disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes
Knowing how to properly inspect your play equipment after a severe weather event and perform necessary playground maintenance can help you keep your space in working order.
When severe weather hits, here are the steps you need to take before reopening your playground to the public. You can use the links below to jump to the info you need:
- Close Your Playground to the Public
- Document All Damages
- Inspect Your Playground Surface
- Inspect Your Playground Equipment
- Clean Your Playground
1. Close Your Playground to the Public
If you see significant, obvious damage, the first step to take after severe weather is to close your playground to the public until it can be inspected thoroughly. These damages might include things like fallen trees, broken equipment, or displaced surfacing.
If your playground equipment was submerged in floodwater (even if it has since receded), it is crucial that you close until it can be inspected carefully. You’ll also want to contact your playground manufacturer for further info on what kinds of severe weather their equipment is designed to endure.
2. Document All Damages
Before you start performing any sort of playground inspection, you’ll want to grab a notepad and a smartphone or camera to document everything you find.
Thorough documentation is your best chance at getting the assistance you need from your playground manufacturer, insurance company, and government agencies like FEMA. Note that there are specific pieces of information you’ll need to include (like date, location, playground maintenance history, and more), so you may want to hire an expert to perform the inspection and document any playground repairs needed.
3. Inspect Your Playground Surface
Unfortunately, most severe weather events will affect the safety of your playground surface, so it should be the first point of your inspection.
Rain and wind can blow trash, debris, and other hazards onto your loose-fill surface. Start by inspecting the surface as a whole to assess its condition following the weather event. Remove any debris or hazards (either by hand or by flushing your entire surface with fresh water) and then rake the material flat, taking extra care at high-traffic areas like under swings and slide exits.
Wind and rain can also blow or float loose-fill surfacing out of the playground area. Check the depth of your surfacing throughout the playground area and pour additional surfacing as needed to hit the necessary depth requirements.
Stickers for Surfacing Depth
If you don’t already have them, consider adding stickers to the uprights of your equipment to indicate the correct level of surfacing material. They provide an easy, visual way to check your surfacing level regularly and keep on top of erosion and other issues.
Poor drainage is the #1 factor that affects the lifespan of many loose-fill surfaces. Be sure to have proper drainage in place to allow your surface to dry quickly and prevent rot.
Loose-fill surfaces are inherently more difficult to inspect, so take your time to ensure a thorough job or hire a playground maintenance professional to perform the inspection.
Unitary surfaces are a bit easier to inspect. Start by removing any large pieces of debris like tree limbs. Then, inspect the surface carefully for tears, holes, and gaps. Rubber unitary surfacing can easily be gouged by branches or other debris carried by the wind, so take your time with your inspection. Repair these damages promptly, as small tears can grow quickly and result in most costly repairs if left as is.
Many popular rubber surfacing options have “voids” or air pockets that allow them to compress and absorb shock. If silt, sand, or dirt has filled these voids, the material will become hard and will no longer be able to cushion falls appropriately.
The best way to flush the voids is with fresh water on low pressure (a fire hose on it’s lowest flow setting works well). Do not use a pressure washer, as the higher pressure can tear and shred your surfacing.
Saturate the area until the dirt is flushed out of the voids and the surfacing material feels bouncy once more. Be thorough, as any debris left inside your surfacing can tear it up from the inside out, causing it to flake off over time.
4. Inspect Your Playground Equipment
Inspecting the equipment where children play is one of the most important steps to take after severe weather. Follow these three simple steps to ensure your playground equipment is safe and stable.
Assess Overall Condition & Structural Integrity
To start, you’ll want to take an overall look at the condition of your playground equipment. In addition to your typical playground inspection checklist, here are a few weather-specific issues to keep an eye out for to maintain optimal playground safety:
- Structural damage
- Significant erosion around playground equipment footings
- Moving equipment (like swings and suspension bridges) that may be blocked by debris
- Missing or broken items like swing seats and decorative elements
If you identify any of these issues, you’ll need immediate playground repair before you reopen your equipment.
Check for Loose & Missing Hardware
Strong wind and heavy rain can loosen bolts and other integral playground hardware. Inspect each piece to make sure it is in place and appropriately tightened. Tighten and/or replace any loose or missing pieces.
Inspect Moving Parts
Moving parts can become a hazard on the playground if not properly maintained and inspected. After severe weather, check all moving parts, including:
- Suspension bridges
- Tic-tac-toe panels
- Moving climbers
Move each piece back and forth to ensure the internal mechanisms are free of debris and sand. If they don’t move freely, flush the moving parts with fresh water until they do.
Once the moving parts are dry, re-lubricate them as recommended by your manufacturer. If they don’t move freely even after cleaning and lubrication, keep the elements closed to the public and contact your manufacturer.
Resolve Interior Flooding
Many playground elements (like slides and tunnels) are made of double-walled plastic that can trap water inside. This interior flooding may seem harmless but it can damage your playground over time.
If you find any flood water trapped within your playground equipment, you’ll need to drill a hole (¼” or smaller) on the underside of the equipment in an unused location to allow it to drain. If you’re unsure of how and where to add drainage holes, you may want to consult a playground maintenance professional.
5. Clean Your Playground
Floodwaters can carry bacteria, sewage, and other hazards. If your playground (or the surrounding area) has flooded, you should thoroughly clean your playground with fresh water and a disinfectant before reopening it to the public. Pressure washers are a great option, but be sure to check the cleaning suggestions from your playground manufacturer first to avoid damage to your paint or equipment.
The same is true if your playground resides in a coastal area where it may have been sprayed by saltwater. Saltwater is extremely corrosive and should be washed away from your playground equipment as soon as possible following any exposure.